SIFF 2018 Edition: Sadie

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Sophia Mitri Schloss. Photo by T. J. Williams, Jr. Image courtesy of SIFF.

NOTE: THIS CRITIQUE MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS.

Sadie begins and ends with the title character (Sophia Mitri Schloss) providing voice-over to a letter she’s written her dad, who is serving overseas. In between is a film with a multi-dimensional and troubled character at its center.

I don’t know than any man could’ve written this tale, or directed it as well. Megan Griffiths, who did both, allows us to empathize with all her characters, even as we begin to realize, long before they do, that something is wrong with Sadie. In idolizing her dad and the violence that surrounds him, in being old enough to be intelligent without being wise, she mistakenly feels that she can solve her problems (and those of her friends) in unsettling ways without adverse consequences. Plus, hormones.

Megan Griffiths. Photo by Hayley Young. Image courtesy of SIFF.

Witness, for example, the way she helps her best friend Francis (Keith L. Williams) with Jesse (Justin Thomas Howell), a bully at school. First, she steals Jesse’s phone and links an easily traceable bomb threat to it, resulting in detention for him. Then, when he finds out about the phone and threatens Francis (thinking he’s the one who sent the message), Sadie emotionally manipulates him into thinking Francis might go on a Columbine rampage if bullied any more, and even shows him a gun she supposedly found in Francis’s backpack (actually one of her dad’s). When she later shows Francis the gun and he worries that Jesse might report them, Sadie says, “For what? You didn’t do anything. Besides, the gun isn’t loaded.”

Notice the logic here. Sadie can’t see beyond the solution she’s hoping to achieve. Yes, Jesse gets a detention in the first instance, but the bomb threat goes on his permanent record (Sadie dismisses Francis when he mentions this, saying, “We’re kids, Francis. Nobody cares what we do.”). And the threat of violence terrorizes Jesse more than he’s terrorized Frances.

This inability to see the consequences of her actions, other that the desired result, plays out again in the main story, when she is upset at her mom (Melanie Lynskey) for dating a handsome new neighbor named Cyrus (John Gallagher, Jr). These feelings are enhanced by her own feelings for him, combined with her loyalty to her dad and her wish for them all to be a family again. First she tries to slip milk of magnesium into his milk (he doesn’t drink it). Then, when it seems her dad will be coming home for good, she tries to trap him in a compromising position. When that doesn’t work, she resorts to more drastic measures.

Photo courtesy of SIFF

Those drastic measures go much further than the solution Sadie had in mind. She wants to harm Cyrus, but she mistakenly thinks she’s in control of the situation and that the amount of harm she can cause is negligible because she’s a kid. Again, she is more intelligent than wise. She only thinks of getting him out of the picture so that her dad can come back to them. But when she discovers that isn’t going to happen, she finally realizes the true weight of what she’s done.

Griffiths is wise to not show Sadie as psychologically damaged or otherwise out of the ordinary. That is not to say that every teenage girl is dangerous, but that they can be without proper guidance and awareness of their power to hurt. This element is what makes the film so unsettling, along with its soundtrack (by Mike McCready).

Still, the movie isn’t without its flaws. John Gallagher, Jr. acts too much with his teeth, lips, and tongue for my taste, and the final letter Sadie writes to her dad falls flat. I’m also not a fan of whisper acting, which Schloss employs too often, especially during the voice-overs. Finally, the movie meanders into clichéd plot devices near its conclusion.

There’s a scene near the beginning of this film that bears mentioning. Francis’s grandfather, Deak (Tee Dennard), spends his time sitting outside and whittling wood carvings. One afternoon, Sadie joins him and begins to carve Cyrus’s face. Deak notices this and tells her she should start with something easier, like animals. “Men are hard,” he says. Sadie shows that young girls can be harder.

Sadie plays as part of An Afternoon with Melanie Lynskey tomorrow at 2:30 at SIFF Cinema Egyptian and again at the same location on Wednesday, June 6 at 6:45.

 

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SIFF 2018 Edition: Disobedience

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Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz. Photo courtesy of SIFF

When I watched Sebastián Lelio’s previous film, A Fantastic Woman, the earth moved. With Disobedience, there were only slight rumblings. Films, like music, need a thread to tie them together from beginning to end, whether it be through story, images, sounds, dialog, or a repeating motif. There is such a thread in Disobedience, but it often thins to nothing, pricking the viewer with its needle.

A rabbi (Anton Lesser) passes away. The daughter (Rachel Weisz) is called back home. We sense something is amiss. There is a coldness to those who welcome her back. The society she left is a conservative Jewish one. Married women wear wigs outside the bedroom. Men do not touch women not their wives. Couples have sex every Friday. The synagogue is segregated: women sit in the balcony, men sit below.

Most of the surprise of what will happen has been spoiled by advance press concerning Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams’s love scene together. The film wants to be Call Me By Your Name for women, but the complexity of its subject would seem more at home in a novel, where each character could be given her own chapter. Despite terrific acting, I never felt completely connected to these people, or felt that Esti (McAdams) would pine after Ronit (Weisz) without finding love elsewhere, however briefly. Call Me By Your Name was based on a novel, and yet fleshed out its characters more.

But is that what the movie’s about? Take note of the opening. The soon-to-be-deceased rabbi is giving a sermon on God’s creation. He mentions that the angels are perfect, and so are incapable of sin, since they cannot choose to be sinners. The beasts also do not sin, as they follow what’s in their nature, and their nature was chosen by God. Only humans are given the freedom to choose. Is this, then, its message? That we have the freedom to choose? Choose our partners, our communities, our lives? Certainly it doesn’t mean choosing our sexuality, for that if that were the case, the movie would’ve ended differently, and I would’ve stormed out of the theater. Nor is it about choosing acceptance, for the Jewish community in this film cannot accept homosexuality any more than it can accept other deviations from its traditions.

So the thread breaks and the pattern unravels, and we cannot see where the needle has gone. While this is still a solid film in its camera work, imagery, acting, and script, it does not shake the heavens, nor does it stir the heart.

Now playing at AMC Seattle 10, which used to be Sundance Cinemas, which used to be the Metro. Also playing at AMC Pacific Place.

SIFF 2018 Edition: Opening Night

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To attend Opening Night is to see everything from cocktail gowns to actual gowns to t-shirts to jeans in a crowd composed of volunteers and staff, high-spending passholders, those who can afford the $75 price tag for the film ($65 for members), and those willing to shell out the $275 for reserved seats, valet parking, and fundraising cred.

And now, a picture of a crow flying from one of the tents.

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What’s up, crow?

Inside, I walked up the central staircase to a place where SIFF program guides were being handed out for free. Obviously, I was on the wrong floor, so I went up a level and saw this below me.

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Even cooler was the view looking back from where I’d come.

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Once the program started, there were the usual speeches and thanking of sponsors, volunteers, and staff. Then, the giving out of the Mayor’s Award for Achievement in Film…by Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan. Just as the mayor wasn’t there to hand out the award, neither was winner Tracy Rector there to receive it. Instead, her son Solomon accepted the award on her behalf and gave the best speech of the night, which started with him saying how hard his mother works (she’s directed and produced over 400 short films, something that the Deputy Mayor pointed out in her introduction).

In addition to the intros and the Mayor’s Award, we were treated to several sponsor commercials, none so poignant as the one from Aegis Living. As usual, we saw the official SIFF trailer (produced by Wong Doody, and which I’d seen at the press launch), and then a montage including scenes from films in this year’s festival. Oh yeah, and there was also a movie. There’s currently a review embargo on The Bookshop, but capsule reviews are okay, and all I have to say about the film can be written in one paragraph.

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Bill Nighy and Patricia Clarkson doing what they do best (hint: it’s acting). Photo courtesy of SIFF

First, the good. The acting is solid (Bill Nighy steals every scene he’s in), the cinematography is pretty (especially the colors), and the camerawork is unobtrusive. Unfortunately, the story itself seems abridged, with only the skeleton of a plot and a few hints of character motivation remaining. It’s not a bad film, but it’s not a particularly good one, either. And the voice-over narration seems unnecessary.

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Emily Mortimer reading a book that’s better than this movie. Photo courtesy of SIFF

Then it was on to the gala. But first, one last look at the tent the crow sat on, this time from inside McCaw Hall.

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In past years, the Opening Night Gala took place in the Pacific Northwest Ballet building. Last year and this year, however, it took place in the more intimate Fischer Pavilion.

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Getting the party started

At the gala, I achieved a lifelong dream of finally getting ice cream, lines be damned (mine was called Netflix & Chill). Sadly, I missed the sliders, but made up for it with potato dumplings (and later, beef dumplings). I also thought the gala ended at 11, which caused much confusion when it kept going. I then thought it must end at 11:30, but no, that was merely the time for last call (speaking of which, I didn’t get carded this year for booze. Must be the beard). It actually ended at midnight.

This is a picture of how close I got to the VIP area.

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To clarify, the VIP area is on the roof of Fischer Pavilion where all those people are standing, not at the Space Needle

The Space Needle scaffolding was being removed that evening, but it was still there when I took this picture. Oh well. At the end of the night, I found out that DJ Don Driftmier (his company is called “Music Man,” which might be his professional DJ name, or it might be DJ Don, or DJ D, or just Don), whom SIFF hires every year for the Opening Night Gala, has been doing it for the past ten years. He’s great, but the music is loud, and I forgot to bring my earplugs this year. Luckily, I found a quiet spot near the front of the dance floor after I’d already danced a few songs in the louder section in between the speakers, so my hearing is still intact.

SIFF 2018 Edition: The SIFFening

 

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Image courtesy of SIFF

After a one-year hiatus, I’m back with my coverage of SIFF! It’s good I didn’t report on the festival last year: otherwise, you would’ve had to hear me complain the entire time about not-quite-meeting Kore-eda Hirokazu (he has another movie in this year’s festival, but no plans yet to attend). Besides, that means I’ve been able to store up my sass for 25 days of festival chronicling (not including an additional 2 1/2 weeks of press screenings)!

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You try that sass on me, young man…. (Highlander photo courtesy of SIFF, and yes, you want to click on that link)

Notice I wrote “chronicling,” not “reporting.” Yes, I have a press pass this year (the last time I had one, one of my posts received over 400 views…in one day!). But if you’ve followed either of my blogs for any period of time, you’ve noticed that I’m not content to just “report” on what’s happening, but to give you a sense of being at whatever event I’m covering. I plan to continue the trend this year, along with my assessment of this year’s crop of films (at least the ones I’m able to see). Speaking of which, this is the ninth Seattle International Film Festival I’ve attended, so maybe I’ll do something special for the tenth (despite not covering last year, because “reasons”).

But back to this year: the press launch was on May 1. One wonders if having rich donors and press personnel lining up outside the Egyptian Theatre on May Day was the best of ideas, but luckily, the anarchists didn’t find us! Though I did see a SWAT van and a wagon full of cops in riot gear go by (and a phalanx of cop cyclists on the way to the theater).

This was the first year that donors and journalists had a combined event, and we got to cut them in line! Okay, so we had our own line and it was shorter than the donor line, so that might’ve been the reason why we got in ahead of them. There was food, but I’d eaten just before. And drinks. No mimosas, but this event was at night, not during the day.

I only took three photos at the press launch.  Besides the familiar-looking one on the left, the one on the top right lists some statistics about the films at this year’s festival (for example, this year there are 433 films from 90 countries), while the one below it is a list of all the programmers. The woman in both photos is Beth Barrett, SIFF’S Artistic Director. Crews were introduced, people talked, trailers played, more people talked, more trailers played, and then it was over, at which point, I walked over to Everyday Music and bought two Berlioz CDs. Because I am a nerd.

Besides this blog, I’ll be posting on Twitter from the festival @salvatorespeak under #SIFF2018, so be sure to follow me there for quick blurbs I might not include here. Embargoed reviews may not appear until after festival.

Happy viewing!

The festival opens with The Bookshop tonight at 7 at McCaw Hall

The Best of Sakura-Con 2018: Mana Q&A

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photo by @nattiedoes

Mana is an enigma. In Japan, he’s known for founding the influential visual kei band, Malice Mizer, for starting his own line of Gothic Lolita clothing, Moi-même-Moitié, and for forming his solo music project, Moi dix Mois. In keeping with his mysterious image, he rarely gives interviews, and when he does, he whispers his answers to an associate, who then answers on his behalf. Only twice has he been known to speak, and both times, the answers were brief and blink-and-you-miss them phrases.

So, when I requested an interview with him, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get it. I didn’t. But I was able to attend his panel, at which I also wasn’t able to ask him questions because all the questions had been submitted ahead of time at the Moi-même-Moitié booth in the Exhibition Hall. You also won’t be seeing many photos from @nattiedoes in this post because they weren’t allowed (except for when it was over, when she took the photo at the top of this post). Nor were video and audio recordings.

What I’m left with is my own recollections and the notes that I furiously scribbled and then copied out later. I also have the recollections of @nattiedoes. If you were at that panel, feel free to leave your recollections in the comments.

Since we were covering the panel as press, we didn’t have to wait in the labyrinthine line that snaked its way near the wall opposite the door to the panel. Instead, we got to wait outside the door with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) people, though that caused much confusion at first about where we needed to stand. I have to say, the ADA people were lovely. One of them was pushing around a kid in a stroller, who was dressed like Gackt.

Except for us, it was pretty easy to tell who was there for the panel, as most of the crowd were wearing Gothic Lolita clothing, making this one of the most stylish panels I’ve attended. Since we were separated from the rest of the crowd by a hallway, we did keep having to shoo away people who lined up behind us and weren’t ADA or press (we were the only press). And, of course, since Mana is an important person, the panel started ten minutes late.

Once the doors finally opened, we sat in the second row from the front, to the right of the center aisle. Then @nattiedoes asked about photos, realized she wouldn’t be taking any, and had someone from the regular line with an awesomely colorful dress (that she made herself!) sneak past us to sit in our row. Since most everyone else around us were wearing muted tones, the splash of color was welcome. Plus, she was good company.

There were five seats on the dais. The first three were empty, the moderator sat in the next one, and the final seat (on the right and closest to the screen seen above) was occupied by a Japanese man who didn’t speak the entire time, but may have been the liaison to the Japanese guests at the convention, as I’ve seen him at previous cons.

The panel started not with Mana, but with his associates. They sat in the far left seats. Both women, the first one was Japanese, while the second associate looked more European (French?). She did most of the speaking, so I suspect she might be in charge of the English branch of the website. I have no idea because I didn’t write it down.

I do wish I’d looked around more so as to relate to you all the clothing styles people were wearing, but as mentioned, most of the crowd wore Gothic Lolita outfits, including the associates, who wore white with their black. I can tell you that it was a very enthusiastic crowd. The first part of the panel allowed questions from the audience, with answers that were often met with oohs and aahs, sometimes with joy, and always with applause. I felt like I was surrounded by the cult of Mana, a benevolent religion that loves lace, is ecstatic about eyelashes, and wishes for sizes that fit American figures better. Its prophets preach what the people want to hear, but many of the answers given by the Moi-même-Moitié employees and Mana via the Mana Whisperer were noncommittal or open to interpretation. I found it fascinating. If you want to learn how to craft a public image, this panel was a masterclass.

For example, nothing was promised one way or the other with the employees’ Q&A. When asked if they would be adding sizes for American audiences, the answer was that they are “trying to get” bigger sizes for American audiences. In the same way, they are “looking into” manufacturers for popular Lolita fashion items like bags and lace headdresses. Even when it came to shoes, which they said they “won’t be doing right now,” the answer implies that they might do shoes later. And, in a precursor of Mana’s behavior, the employee at the end of the dais discussed her answers quietly with the other employee instead of answering the questions herself.

More examples of indirect answers: the woman who brought her child asked if they would be releasing a line of Gothic Lolita children’s clothes (squeals from the audience). The answer was that “we’d like to release children’s clothes, but adult clothes are the focus right now.” In a similar vein, there are “no plans to open a physical shop,” they would like to “bring the brand back to its glory,” and “Mana-san would like to release eyelashes.” In fact, the only question they answered directly was one about what kind of accessory they personally like best. They answered that they both love original lace.

Before Mana came out, the moderator announced that no photos or visual or audio recordings would be allowed (we’d be kicked out). We then had to make noise for him to appear.  After we made enough noise, the lights dimmed and Moi dix Mois music played (or perhaps it was Malice Mizer). There was a black curtain to the left side of the screen (closest the panelists): Mana appeared from behind that curtain, stood behind his seat, bowed elegantly with his right arm held horizontally across his waist, and sat down. He wore a black corset with black platform shoes and some sort of flowy pants. His shirt was frilly in the center, possibly with frills at the ends of the sleeves (we couldn’t remember, but they weren’t conspicuous), and white with thin, vertical stripes. On his chest, he wore a large, sparkly cross. His face was covered in white makeup with black eyeliner, and he had David-Bowie-from-Labyrinth hair, but black instead of blond. On each of his fingers, he wore large rings, possibly all gold, possibly all silver, possibly a mix. Every time he answered a question, he leaned over to the Moi-même-Moitié associate next to him (the one who’d answered during the first part of the panel) and faced his right palm toward us with spread fingers, covering his mouth (and just in case that wasn’t enough to prevent us from hearing him, his music played softly in the background the entire time). She then translated his answer on a piece of paper and responded for him.

The questions were asked by the moderator from notecards. Many of the questions were addressed to “Mana-san” (formal) or “Mana-sama” (most formal). Here, then, is the gist of the questions asked and Mana’s answers (Questions and comments from the moderator are in bold. If the question or comment from the moderator wasn’t from a notecard, I’ve put an “M” in front of it):

What is your favorite Malice Mizer song and album?
His favorite song is “Bel Air” (cheers from the audience), and his favorite album is Bara No Seidou. (more cheers)
How do you feel having led and supported the EGC (elegant gothic clothing) boom?
He feels extremely proud and happy to have been a part of it.
Have you ever thought of releasing a self biography?
There actually were plans to do one 5-6 years ago, but it didn’t happen. It would be really great to release one someday.
Mana-sama, what inspires your fashion choices?
For daily fashion choices, there is no particular inspiration.
What is the future for the brand and for Lolita fashion?
He hopes that it becomes more and more popular.
What do you think of older people wearing Lolita fashion?
He thinks you can wear Lolita fashion at any age beautifully. (big cheers)
What do you see the future of Moi-même-Moitié being in 5-10 years?
He hopes to protect fashion, and he wants all of us to help him.
What do you think of the evolution of Lolita fashion over the past 19 years?
He is going to pass on that answer.
M: How about this one?
(She shows them both a card, they nod their heads)
What is your opinion of Goth Lolita people who have tattoos?
When the tattoo is for him, he feels really happy. Otherwise, you can do as you like.
M: Does anyone in the crowd have a tattoo of Mana?
Woman in front of us: I have one of the Moi-même-Moitié logo.
(Mana looks over at her, sees it, and gives a thumbs up while slightly nodding. I look over to see if the woman has passed out, but luckily she was sitting when he complimented her.)
Mana-sama, how often do you get a haircut? And do you style your own hair?
(Mana makes scissor gestures with his fingers through his hair. Audience chuckles.)
He cuts and styles his own hair. As to how often he gets a haircut, he gets it whenever he wants one.
Where did you go in Seattle? Do you like coffee? What did you eat recently? (chuckles from the audience)
Mana-sama went to the Starbucks Reserve and found out he likes Starbucks coffee in the states. (Pause) He had clam chowder and found that he really liked it.
What is your skin care regimen?
He doesn’t really have a skin-care regimen. He often uses all-in-one products.
M: You have such great skin! I wish I had skin like yours.
(Did I mention his face is painted white? What skin is she looking at?)
What is your favorite Moi dix Mois song?
His favorite song is “Dialogue Symphony” because it was their first one.
What was the inspiration for Moi dix Mois?
When he founded Moi-même-Moitié, he was interested in what kind of music the dress designs would make. He created Moi dix Mois to express these dress designs through music. When he returns home, he’ll start recording soon.*
What Western artists have inspired you?
When he was a teenager, he was very influenced by Motley Crüe and Slayer.
When is Moi dix Mois coming to the U.S.?
He can’t make any promises, but he would like to make it happen at some point.
Can you visit the U.S. more? Have you thought about opening a store?
He wants to come back soon. He has no plans to open a store.
What inspires you the most?
He is most inspired by cooking. He likes to combine music and cooking.
What is your opinion of Twin Peaks?
He likes David Lynch, but he hasn’t seen Twin Peaks.
How did you come to record the Hatsune Miku snowbird song?
Miku-san asked him to go out drinking and invited him to do this.
(I should mention that Hatsune Miku is a hologram.)
How are you like Hatsune Miku vocally?
Mana-san says they have a similar image color.
(I don’t know what that means, either.)
What is your greatest achievement?
When we (Malice Mizer) did the concert at the Budokan. It was the biggest show ever at that location.
What did you think about your first fashion show in the U.S.?**
Everyone was really kind, so he would like to do it again.
M: How’d he feel about modeling in the fashion show?
He wants to thank you for your support and kind words. It means that Moi-même-Moitié can do more.
We thought he’d finished answering the question, but he continued whispering to his associate, and then she added the following: “Mana-san feels inspired to do more due to the kindness of people here.”
Then he stood up, bowed from the waist, and disappeared behind the screen again. With that, the panel was over.
POSTSCRIPT: In case you’re wondering what questions I wanted to ask Mana, here they are:

1. You write music, choreograph performances, design clothing, and play a variety of instruments. How do each of these activities influence and/or connect to each other?

2. You helped form two visual kei bands, Malice Mizer and Moi dix Mois. How would you describe visual kei to a non-Japanese person?

3. What musicians or composers have influenced you and your sound?

4. Why did you decide to open your fan club to international fans, and do you think other Japanese artists should do the same?

5. Would you mind discussing the influence French culture has on you, particularly as it relates to your clothing line and Moi dix Mois?

6. What can you tell us about the Moi-même-Moitié tea party?*** Where did the idea for the tea party come from?

7. What new projects are you working on?

8. What would you like your legacy to be?

9. You don’t often speak in interviews. What is the reason behind this?

 

*I found this answer to be the single most fascinating response he gave. And it was direct!
**Mana put on a fashion show at Sakura-Con this year and modeled as part of the show, but neither of us were able to attend.
***This was another event @nattiedoes and I didn’t attend, mainly because all guests had to wear a piece of clothing from the Moi-même-Moitié line.

The Best of Sakura-Con 2018: Chin Music Press Translation Panel (with Zack Davisson and Jay Rubin):

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(l-r): Sakura-Con staff, Bruce Rutledge, Zack Davisson, Jay Rubin

My first panel on Saturday featured the translation battle between Zack Davisson, my friend and translator of Mizuki Shigeru, and Jay Rubin, former Harvard professor and translator of Murakami Haruki. The panel was moderated by Bruce Rutledge from Chin Music Press and, sadly, was the only panel of Davisson’s that I attended in full (and the only one that wasn’t full).

It started with a quote from Jay Rubin that appeared in the New Yorker: “When you read Haruki Murakami, you’re reading me, at least 95% of the time.” Davisson agreed with this quote, and Rubin said the only thing he’d change about it is increase the percentage from 95% to 99%.

The first challenge was Rubin’s, as he had to translate a page from Mizuki’s Kitaro without looking at Zac’s translation. Manga has specific challenges, such as being limited by the size of the talk bubbles, deciding how to translate sound effects, and the fact that 100% of what you’re translating is dialog, meaning that you need to give each character a different voice that is consistently and uniquely theirs.

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Rubin’s translation (which he read off a sheet of paper) wasn’t bad. When compared with Davisson’s translation (projected on the screen), the meaning was the same, but the writing style and word choices were different. Davisson then explained to Rubin what Kitaro is about, specifically concerning the character Nezumi Otoko, who was in the panels that Rubin translated. Davisson notes that he never translates people’s names; otherwise, Nezumi Otoko would become “Rat Man.”

Then it was Davisson’s turn to translate something of Murakami’s, so Rubin gave him the first page of Norwegian Wood, which has one of the best opening chapters I’ve ever read. Davisson’s translation read differently than Rubin’s, with more complex word choices and longer paragraphs (I particularly remember that he wrote “ensconced in the seat” versus Rubin’s “strapped in my seat”).

As Rubin looked at Davisson’s work, he told us that there was a conspicuous mistake in his translation. Someone mentioned that “Beatle’s” should read “Beatles” or “Beatles’s,” but that wasn’t the mistake. Finally, Rubin admitted that the mistake was Murakami’s. Davisson’s translation read, “The extinguishing of the no smoking light signaled our successful landing.” Unfortunately, the no smoking light is never extinguished in a flight. Rubin wrote to Murakami’s publishers about it, but the paperback still carries the mistake. For Rubin’s translation, he removed the offending sentence.

Both of them then talked about how they got started translating their respective authors. Rubin initially wasn’t interested in translating Murakami’s work because his focus was Meiji Era writing, not contemporary authors. But then he read Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and loved it. Unfortunately, his publishers weren’t read to take a chance on the novel, Murakami’s first. The translation eventually went to Alfred Birnbaum. Rubin was still interested in translating Murakami, however, and in those days you could just look up an author, as Murakami’s phone number was published. So Rubin contacted him about translating Norwegian Wood, and then shopped the translation around. For Rubin, however, Murakami’s short stories are even better than his novels. In The Elephant Vanishes, which Rubin and Birnbaum each translated stories from, it turned out that the stories Rubin wanted to translate weren’t the ones that Birnbaum wanted to translate, and vice-versa. Even more curious, when critics would list which stories they enjoyed the most, they’d either cite the ones Birnbaum had translated or the ones that Rubin had translated, but not both.

Davisson first came across Mizuki Shigeru in Japan and loved him. Similarly to Rubin, publishers weren’t ready to translate Mizuki when Davisson wanted to. When he found out that Drawn & Quarterly were coming out with the first Mizuki book in English, he wrote them an email that went something like this: “You don’t know me yet, but I’m Mizuki Shigeru’s translator. I don’t know who you hired to translate Mizuki, but I’m better than him and I’ll prove it. Send me something to translate, and if I translate it better than him, fire him and hire me.” They ended up doing just that, liked his translation better, and fired the other guy, to which Rubin replied dryly (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Wow. To get my job, I didn’t have to be an asshole,” which elicited laughs from the audience.

The floor was then opened for questions. Davisson fielded most of them, but everyone had to speak up because Rubin is hard-of-hearing. Someone asked if they fix blatant sexism and racism in their translations. Davisson said that’s a tough question. Neither of them attempt to imitate dialect, though Rubin knows of one translator who created his own dialect in order to do that. They also don’t attempt puns.

No translators were harmed in the writing of this article.

Ironically, both Davisson and Rubin wrote works for Chin Music Press that aren’t translations. Davisson wrote Yurei: The Japanese Ghost and his latest, Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan, which he mentioned at last year’s Sakura-Con. Rubin wrote The Sun Gods. In addition, Davisson translated The Secret Biwa Music that Caused the Yurei to Lament by Isseki Sanjin, which influenced Lafcadio Hearn’s tale in Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things.

The Best of Sakura-Con 2018: CALIGULA World Premiere with Special Guests

                               Photo by @NattieDoes

My first official Sakura-Con 2018 post is on the first panel I went to. Caligula is an anime based on the video game of the same name (in Japan. In America, the game is known as The Caligula Effect), which is an offshoot of the Persona series of video games.  Since the first episode isn’t scheduled to air in Japan (and Crunchyroll) till April, this was a true world premiere. The moderator told us that the series is about a VR idol singer named μ (pronounced “Mu”) who creates a world so people will be happy and perfect, except that not everyone wants to be in that world.

While we weren’t allowed to take photos or video while the episode played (for obvious reasons), I can tell you that the first (subtitled) episode follows Ritsu Shikishima (voiced by Chiharu Sawashiro), a typical high school student. At first, the episode feels like a slice-of-life show about high school (they’re even jokes about how ramen calories don’t count for high school students), but while listening to a new song by μ, Ritsu hears someone say, “Help me!” While talking about it with his friends, they seem not to hear him, but freeze and then turn in unison (along with everyone who is outside) to watch a fight. Meanwhile, a female classmate deals with a mother who is starving herself to death, except that when she returns home, her mom is “perfect” again. Also, μ briefly appears to her as an apparition. At the end of the episode, when Ritsu witnesses two school ceremonies back-to-back in which the speaker gives the graduation address as an upperclassman and then, in the next scene, gives the address as an incoming student, he realizes that what he’s witnessing is not real life. And that’s when the shadows attack.

      Takanori Matsuoka (center left) and Chiharu Sawashiro (center right). Photo by @NattieDoes

The Q&A that followed was with up-and-coming voice actor Chiharu Sawashiro and the producer of the show, Takanori Matsuoka. Someone asked how Sawashiro-san was able to play Ritsu, since he’s a blank slate in the game. He answered that, for the show, they gave him some personality traits. For example, Ritsu is very smart. Sawashiro-san said, however, that he himself is not very smart.

Another question concerned the fact that Sawashiro-san usually plays supporting characters. How was playing a main character different? This led to a funny exchange in which Sawashiro-san said that, as a main character, he had to keep his cool more. He then re-enacted what he would do with directors when playing a supporting character. When the director would ask him to do something, he would jump to it and say, “Yes! Absolutely! Right away!” (I’m paraphrasing here) But when he’s playing the main character, all the other actors are looking to him for guidance, so he has to keep his cool or they’ll think something is wrong. He has to be more like, “Yes, I understand.”

As a fan of Persona, I found the first episode intriguing, though it might be confusing to people not familiar with the Persona games or The Caligula Effect. Certainly worth watching.

Caligula premieres on Crunchyroll April 8

Sakura-Con 2018 Update

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photo by @NattieDoes

Sakura-Con 2018 ended three days ago. Since then, I’ve been posting photos to my flickr account (most of them taken by my partner, @NattieDoes) and typing up notes from the panels I attended, as well as from the opening and closing ceremonies.

I also tweeted during the convention. You can find those here (and find me @salvatorespeak). I’m on Facebook, too. And for those of you wondering what else I’m up to, please check out my website: https://salvatorespeaks.com

To wet your appetite, here are some of the posts I have planned (in no particular order):

  • Opening and Closing Ceremonies
  • Chin Music Press Translation Panel (with Zack Davisson and Jay Rubin): a translation battle between the English translator of Mizuki Shigeru and the English translator of Murakami Haruki, respectively
  • When Anime Sells Out: a hilarious panel on commercials (mostly Japanese) that use anime characters (or create their own)
  • My Life as an Idol in Japan: Seishun Gakuen: Ally and Sally, two former members of Seishun Gakuen, talk about being part of that idol group and plans to launch a sister group, Seishun Youth Academy, in Canada
  • CALIGULA World Premiere w/ Special Guests: a panel that featured the first episode of Caligula, based on the video game Caligula (known as The Caligula Effect in the States), which is an offshoot of the Persona series of games. And yes, it included special guests. 🙂

and finally….

  • Mana Q&A: a panel with the staff of Moi-même-Moitié and the legendary musician, composer, choreographer, fashion designer, and founder/co-founder of Moi dix Mois and Malice Mizer, respectively

Make sure you follow this blog so you can get all the updates..

Happy reading!

Sakura-Con 2017 and 2018 Photos and Strategies

Last year, I covered Sakura-Con for its 20th anniversary. My partner and I interviewed two voice actors (you can read Vic Mignogna’s interview starting here), attended numerous panels, and took lots of photos. My original plan was to edit and post the photos (and interviews) soon after the Con.

That’s not what happened.

So, in an effort to be more efficient this time around, my partner has suggested some changes. First, I’m including links to our photos before I’ve uploaded them all. You can access photos from Sakura-Con 2017 here. Likewise, you can see photos from Sakura-Con 2018 here.

Once all the photos are uploaded, I’ll make an announcement on this blog, so subscribe if you don’t already!

Once all the posts from Sakura-Con 2018 are up, I’ll start adding the final Sakura-Con 2017 posts, including my interview with Aaron Dismuke and highlights from last year’s Con.

Hope to see you there!

Interview with Vic Mignogna, Part Three: Music and Final Questions

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Photo by Natalia

 Click here and here for part one and part two of the interview, respectively. 

Since I knew Vic was an accomplished musician, I decided to ask him about his love of music. The answer I got was the longest of the interview, and one of the most fascinating. But perhaps you Full Metal Alchemist fans just want to know what I asked him about that show. That question is near the end of this post. 

G: When did you first become interested in music, and what kind of music is your favorite to listen to?

V: When I was very young, I starting singing. I would sing in church. I didn’t play any instruments, but I sang. My mom played the piano in our church. So I would sing in church a lot, and I would sing in school. When I was seventeen years old, I was attending a boarding school. I was going to a boarding school in South Carolina, 12 hours from my mom, where I lived, and a friend of mine invited me to go with him to Kmart. He said, “Hey, I’m going to Kmart, wanna get a ride with me?” and I [was like], “Sure.”

So I got in his car — I’ll never forget [it]: [a] yellow Camaro. And we got in the car and he put in a cassette tape, actually an eight-track tape, of Barry Manilow. Now the school that I went to — this is an important point — the school that I went to was a very strict Christian school. We were not allowed to listen to music like Barry Manilow or secular rock, pop music. So, it was a bit of a coup that he was doing this secretly, in his car, y’know, so as not to get in trouble. I sat in the passenger seat of his Camaro, driving to Kmart, and I’m listening to this music and I’m like, “I like this guy. He’s unpretentious. There’s an honesty, an emotion to [it]. I like the music. And he kind of sings in the same vocal range that I do. I like it.”

We got to Kmart, he said, “You comin’ in?” I’m like, “No, I’ll sit in the car and listen to the music.” He came out, we went back to the campus, and…Christmas break was a few weeks after that. When I went home for Christmas break, what do you think I did? I went to the music store and I bought every Barry Manilow record I could find, and I took ’em home and I listened [to them] and I fell in love with his music. He plays the piano. I didn’t play the piano. I didn’t play anything. But, I went back to school, after Christmas break, and I started telling my friends [whispers], “I love Barry Manilow. Don’t tell anybody. I like him.” And I told that to one of my friends named Jay.

Jay was a year younger than I was, but Jay played the piano, and Jay liked Barry Manilow, too. And Jay said to me, “Hey, why don’t we write a Barry Manilow song, like a [Barry Manilow] style song, like that?” He’s like, “I’ll write the music, and then I’ll record myself playing it on a cassette. And I’ll give it to you. You listen to it, in your dorm room, and you write the lyrics.” So that’s what we did. And I listened to that cassette ALL the time, while I was working on the lyrics. So I memorized that song exactly the way Jay played it on that cassette. I could hear every note, right?

One day, I was walking across the campus and I was walking by these little practice studios. I don’t know if you’ve seen ’em. A lot of schools have them. It’s basically a closet. A row of closets with a piano. And it’s where musicians would go to practice their instrument. Tuba…piano, guitar, violin, whatever. So I’m walking by one and I go in and sit down at the piano. [Demonstrates with his fingers] Started plinky-plunking around; I didn’t know what I was doing. But little by little…I sounded out…what sounded like.. a chord, of the song that Jay had recorded on the cassette. And then I started moving my fingers around, to what I heard, what I remembered the song sounded like, and before I knew it, I had figured out how to play that song exactly the way Jay played it on the cassette.

From there, I started playing the piano more and more and more and more. I learned theory, I learned chord progressions, and I learned how to transcribe music on manuscript paper. I continued writing, playing, singing, to the point where anything I heard I could play, and then I started writing songs and then I started recording those songs, and like…forty years later — [whispers] thirty-five years later — music has become such a huge part of my life. I’ll sit down at a piano and play anything that I’ve heard, and…love it, and it’s all because [of] Barry Manilow. So imagine my elation at getting to meet him, last year, at a concert that he did, and tell him what a huge impact he had on my life.

At this point, I was told by Sakura-Con staff that I had time for one more question, which was perfect, since I only had one question left. Vic, for his part, apologized for taking so long with his answer.

G: [In response to Vic] That’s okay [laughs]. No worries. All right, so one of my friend’s sisters wanted me to ask you this question. If you were Edward Elric, would you have done anything differently in your quest to find you and your brother’s bodies?

V: …..

…..

….

I probably would have started drinking milk.

G: [Laughs]

V: Probably would have made me stronger, maybe have made me a little taller…

G: Thank you.

V: You’re welcome.

While that was the end of my interview, I have a postscript. Talking about Barry Manilow encouraged one of the other people in the room to ask him, privately, if the rumors are true that he hates gay people. His answer was to all of us, so I’ve included it here. Since I’m working off notes, instead of a recording, the wording captures the spirit, if not the letter, of his reply. This was the only time in the room that he got remotely angry. He denied the allegations, and then zeroed in on why he thinks people have attributed these rumors to him.

V: You know what it is. It’s because I’m a Christian, so I must hate gays. Am I a Christian? Yes. Do I hate gays? No.

After staying to sign autographs and take pictures with anyone who wanted them, our time with Vic Mignogna, great voice actor and greater human being, was over.

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Photo by Natalia